Background: Ethnic differences in obesity are well documented; however, the epidemiological evidence of the impact of socioeconomic and educational status on its relationship is sparse. We sought to assess the impact of educational attainment, as a proxy of socioeconomic status, on the association between ethnicity and morbid obesity (MO) among employees of Baptist Health South Florida (BHSF), a large nonprofit healthcare organization.
Methods: Data was collected from employees participating in an annual Health Risk Assessment in 2014. Educational attainment was self-reported while weight, height and other biometric measures were measured in person. MO was categorized using eligibility criteria for bariatric surgery as outlined by the 1991 NIH consensus guidelines for surgery for the obese.
Results: Data was collected for 9361 participants (mean age 42.8 ± 12.1 years, 74% females, 63% Hispanic). Overall, 7% meet criteria for MO (Non-Hispanic White [NHW]: 5%; Hispanics: 6%; Non-Hispanic Black [NHB]: 12%). A lower education was associated with a greater prevalence of morbid obesity (Post graduate/ professional: 4.2%; completed college: 5.2%; some college or lower: 9.8%) The highest (18%) and lowest (4%) prevalence of MO were observed in NHB with some college education or lower (SCL), and in Hispanics with post-graduate or professional educational (PG) attainment respectively. Among PG, compared to NHW, the odd ratios (95% CI) for presence of MO among NHB was 1.3 (0.6 - 2.5). Conversely, the respective MO risk for NHB vs. NHW was 4 fold higher (2.5 - 6.4) among those with SCL. Interaction of ethnicity and educational attainment for predicting MO was significant (p <0.05) adjusting for age and sex.
Conclusion: Underlying differences in educational status significantly impact ethnic disparities in morbid obesity. The co-existing influence of education and racial disparities should be jointly addressed to maximize yield of future wellness efforts aimed at optimizing CV health.